Cyprus closer than ever to unification, says Turkish Cyprus FM

DAILY SABAH WITH REUTERS
ISTANBUL
Published 18.11.2015 16:00
Updated 18.11.2015 17:26
emAA photo/em
AA photo

Cyprus is closer than ever to ending a four-decade partition with the Turkish and Greek sides potentially agreeing on the text of a deal by May followed by a referendum, the Turkish Cypriot Foreign Minister Emine Çolak said.

"We are cautiously optimistic. We think we are closer than we have ever been before. We don't think the Cyprus problem has got easy - it hasn't but we think we have a window of opportunity. It is possible and it is desirable to get to at least the major part of the negotiations and the agreed text by May 2016," Çolak said.

She added that it would be "a good thing" to postpone Greek Cypriot elections planned for May 2016 to ease the negotiating process. Asked if there could be a referendum on unification in early 2016, Çolak said: "I wouldn't think early 2016 but maybe within 2016 - I don't see any reason why not."

Political tensions on the long-divided island have eased since talks resumed on May 15.

On May 28, leaders agreed on a five-step plan to resolve the Cyprus issue following a meeting hosted by the U.N. special adviser for Cyprus, Espen Barth Eide. These steps included opening more crossing points, interconnecting power grids, allowing cellphone interoperability on both sides of the island, resolving the issue of radio frequency conflicts and forming a joint committee on gender equality.

Peace talks were unilaterally suspended by Greek Cyprus last October after Turkey sent an exploratory ship on behalf of Turkish Cyprus for seismic research off the coast of Greek Cyprus.

The island was divided into a Turkish Cypriot government in the northern third and a Greek Cypriot government in the southern two-thirds of the island after a 1974 military coup by Greece was followed by an intervention by Turkey as a guarantor state. Border gates between Turkish Cyprus and Greek Cyprus were opened on April 2003.

A major initiative collapsed in 2004 when a U.N. reunification blueprint was rejected by Greek Cypriots in a referendum. Anastasiades, who backed the 2004 initiative, said it was important that there were no winners or losers from the process.

Present negotiations would be assisted by an EU technocrat to ensure that any arrangements be in conformity with EU rules and regulations, Turkish Cypriot President Mustafa Akıncı said. Anastasiades declined to specify in what particular areas convergences had started emerging. At present, negotiators appointed by the two sides are looking at governance and property issues and at potential territorial adjustments in a future federated state. "Some progress has been observed on the chapters that are being discussed," he said. The sides will continue to pursue low-level confidence-building measures, but in a manner that would not detract from the key issue of finding a deal.

Turkish leaders have consistently affirmed that they are determined to bring a permanent resolution to the conflict on the divided island and have urged the international community to contribute to the peace.

A "United Cyprus Federation" has been on the agenda of resumed reunification negotiations with the Greek side of the divided island, Akıncı said in July. The guarantor statuses of Turkey, Greece and the United Kingdom have also been left out of the debate so far, Akıncı also stated. According to the negotiated plan, Turkish and Greek states will be founded first for the Cypriot federation, with each having their own citizenship system. The new state will have one lower and one higher parliament, while both Turkish and Greek Cypriots will have the right to reside anywhere on the island.

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